Once-ler opened his eyes to see nothing but white. White ceilings, white walls, and there was a strange beeping sound filling his ears. Was he in heaven? The answer seemed to be yes as an angel with curly brown hair, pulled up into an untidy bun, and a large pair of blue rimmed glasses that sat on her nose filled his vision.
Then there was a sharp pain in his chest and the familiar smell of blood filled his nose as he coughed and he knew he was still in reality.
The angel stayed with him though, her hands strong and steady as she held him through the attack.
"Try to relax. I've got you. It'll all be okay."
His body went limp as the coughing finished. She gently cleaned up the blood and adjusted the IV drips, and Once-ler slipped back into blissful unconsciousness.
"Will he really be all right?"
The nurse turned to look at the small orange creature made of fuzz and fur that the paramedics had found at the scene; the one who had called the hospital yesterday in a complete panic. Shouting into the phone that his friend was dying; the one who had paced around the waiting room all night and all day waiting for any news.
"I'll be honest, sir, it's going to be touch and go for a while. He's very weak and the infection isn't under control yet, but his spirit is strong, I can tell. Still
if anything should happen, do you know if there is any family to call?"
The Lorax thought about the people who had packed up and left the Once-ler when the gravy train had stopped, after throwing everything he had done for them back in his face for good measure.
The nurse nodded and left the room to finish her rounds. As she went the Lorax approached the bed. Getting himself settled on it he took one of the Once-ler's hands. He still looked pretty bad. Though his hair was combed back now, and the mask covering his mouth and nose made the wheezing quieter. He was still pale, still fragile; far removed from the smug ruthless businessman who cared for nothing but his company and his own greed. This man was simply broken.
"You watch over him, Pipsqueak," the Lorax said, to the bar-ba-loot curled up on the end of the bed.
Pipsqueak nodded and curled himself closer to the Once-ler.
"You hang on, Beanpole, okay? And I'll make sure all that hard work doesn't go to waste."
He wasn't sure, but he thought he felt Once-ler squeeze his hand back. The Lorax smiled.
Some time later, when the fever had broken, and he wasn't being stuffed full of ten different medications he couldn't begin to pronounce Once-ler began to notice his surroundings properly. Like the fact that Pipsqueak was sitting on the end of his bed.
"Hey, you came back."
The bar-ba-loot just rolled his eyes and scooted closer to him, as if to say 'you didn't think I would do anything else did you?'
"I've missed you, you know," he said, rubbing Pipsqueak's belly.
"And my boss said having him here would be bad for you."
Once-ler turned his head to see a familiar angel-nurse sorry she was a nurse. As she began checking the machines and shifting things around Once-ler noticed for the first time that the thneed he was using as a pillow wasn't his.
"This thneed it's yellow, mine was pink."
"Oh we had to remove all that when they brought you in, but I try to make sure each patient has a thneed. I like them and I think the provide warmth and comfort when people stay here."
"Well that's great," he said, glad that his invention was being used to help people just like it should.
The nurse finished her work and left him to rest. He didn't get much though as a few minutes later a woman with long red hair was knocking on the door awkwardly, her arms heavy with several bags.
"I must say, Mr. Once-ler, you sure know how to make my job a royal pain in the ass. I came to your house to drop off more seeds and found the door open, no memos or notes from you; just books and boxes stacked everywhere, and fish bathing in your dishes."
Once-ler felt his heart clench in hope.
"You-you didn't send them away did you?"
Miss Funce-ler stared at him.
"No, but you know you really should have better communications with us, sir. I spent more than three hours yesterday trying to track you down, and if we'd known you were in the hospital we would have sent all this earlier."
What that she began emptying out the bags she had brought with her, piling up cards and chocolates and bags of marshmallows onto the only chair in the room.
Once-ler eyes went wide. "What's all this for?"
"We wanted to wish you a speedy recovery and to thank you for all your hard work. We know you've been doing your best to keep the factory going without the trees and trying to keep the staff on
well most of them anyway."
The Once-ler's brow furrowed in thought.
"Miss Funce-ler, you have a sister Mrs
O'Schmunsler isn't it?"
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"I know I had to let her husband go when we closed the east division. Since I'm not going to back for a while you can keep her on as your assistant."
The young woman's face absolutely lit up in joy, and her eyes filled up with tears.
"Oh thank you, sir!"
Miss Funce-ler kissed him on the cheek and ran out the door, nearly running over the nurse standing there with a food tray.
Once-ler looked at her, his face beet red as he shrugged.
"A very hands on business you run I see," she said, and she put the tray down in front of him.
"What's this?" he asked taking off the lid.
"It's chicken soup. You get to move up to semi-solid foods today, and I got you extra crackers to celebrate the occasion."
"Well thank you very much-uh
umm. I'm so terribly sorry you've been caring for me all this time and I haven't even asked you your name."
She smiled and pushed her glasses higher up on her nose. "It's Norma."
"Thank you, Norma."
He held out his hand and Norma shook it firmly. She held on to it a bit longer than she meant to, and when she realized what she was doing she dropped his hand and pointed one finger at him.
"You can thank me by eating all of that, sir."
Once-ler smiled as she left and began crumbling the crackers into his soup. Pipsqueak left the bed to help himself to the bags of marshmallows while Once-ler made sure there wasn't a speck of soup left in the bowl when Norma came to pick it up.